| WASHINGTON, April 23
WASHINGTON, April 23 Australia's decision to
order 58 more F-35 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp
by 2023 will help drive down the cost of the stealthy
warplane and strengthen the jet's presence in Asia, a senior
Lockheed official said on Wednesday.
Steve O'Bryan, Lockheed's vice president for F-35 business
development, said 10 countries had now committed to buying the
F-35, and Lockheed expected others to follow suit this year.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Wednesday
that his country would spend A$12.4 billion ($11.61 billion) to
buy 58 more F-35s, bringing its total order to 72 jets,
including 14 F-35s already ordered in 2009.
Lockheed is building three models of the F-35 for the U.S.
military and nine other countries that have placed orders or
announced plans to buy: Britain, Australia, Norway, Italy,
Turkey, the Netherlands, Israel, Japan and South Korea.
Canada and Denmark helped fund the plane's development and
remain part of the initial partnership, but they are reassessing
their fighter procurement plans. Singapore is also expected to
order F-35 jets, although the timing remains uncertain.
"Australia's decision is another affirmation for the
program," O'Bryan told reporters during a teleconference. "That
will add a significant amount of quantity into those near-term
years, driving down the price ... of the airplane."
The Pentagon last week released a revised estimate for the
cost of the 2,443 planes to be purchased by the U.S. military
that showed a 1.9 percent increase.
U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Chris Bogdan, the Pentagon's F-35
program chief, said additional orders would drive down the cost,
which had increased largely due to budget-driven delays in
orders by the Pentagon and other allies.
O'Bryan said quantity was the single biggest factor driving
cost reductions on the aircraft, so any additional orders would
help lower the projected procurement cost.
He said Lockheed was working closely with the Pentagon and
engine maker Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp
, to drive down the cost of operating the plane.
Lockheed is also investing its own money to generate future
savings by making it easer to build, maintain and operate the
jets, including efforts to reduce the weight of the aircraft,
which would have a significant effect on its fuel usage rates.
O'Bryan said Lockheed expected additional countries to join
the program this year, but declined to elaborate which ones.
Asked if Singapore was likely to order jets this year, he
said only that Singapore was evaluating the jet and Lockheed
stood ready to support Singapore when it completed that process.
He said the jet would be operated throughout Asia by Japan,
South Korea, Australia and three U.S. military services, which
would result in lower operating and maintenance costs for all
the allies since they could share sustainment facilities.
Canada was going through a thorough and transparent
seven-step process as it decided whether to proceed with its
planned F-35 purchases, or launch a new competition, he said.
O'Bryan also Australian suppliers would now be able to
compete for billions of dollars of additional work on the
aircraft, topping even Australia's estimate that its companies
would get $1.5 billion in orders as a result of the new order.
"We're highly confident that we will exceed the value of
$1.5 bln in contracts that the Australian government talked
about," he said. "We see opportunities for them in the multiple
billions of dollars."
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Andrew Hay)